Spanning the World : The Crazy Universe of Big-Time Sports, All-Star Egos, and Hall of Fame Bloopers
One of the most popular television sports personalities offers his witty, entertaining, and utterly unique take on the world of sports: the absurd and bizarre, the personal and intimate, the monumental and historic.
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May 31, 2006
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Excerpt from Spanning the World by Len Berman
I don't mind the recognition, but I wonder if airing footage of an outfielder running smack through the center-field fence is really going to be my legacy. I mean, I actually have done a couple of other things in my forty years of broadcasting. In addition to working Super Bowls, the World Series, and the Olympics for NBC, I've called TV play-by-play for the Boston Celtics, the Big East Conference, HBO Sports, and for three heavyweight championship fights, including the 1991 bout between George Foreman and Evander Holyfield. I also created Sports Fantasy, a television program that gave viewers the chance to compete against Michael Jordan, Arnold Palmer, Chris Evert, Wayne Gretzky, and other all-time greats. And I've done a ton of newscasts and broadcasts from most of the major sporting events. All this has given me entrýe to just about anybody who's anybody in the world of sportsýincluding Willie Mays Aikens.
You may not remember Aikens, but in the early 1980s he was one of baseball's most feared sluggers. A cocaine addiction was his downfall. He was out of baseball in 1985 (although he continued to play down in Mexico, hitting .454 with 46 home runs and 154 RBIs one season). I interviewed him in 1983 for the NBC baseball Game of the Week at a prison in Texas. He had the distinction of being the first active major-league baseball player to be sent to jail. He was sent to the slammer for ninety days after pleading guilty to attempting to buy cocaine. (In 1994, he was sentenced to over twenty years for selling drugs to an undercover officer.) It was quite a comedown for the first player to have two multihomer games in a single World Series, a feat he accomplished with Kansas City in 1980. Aikens agreed to speak to me from prison and to discuss his personal demons. He admitted to me that he once played a major-league game while high on coke. It wasn't the kind of interview that would be recycled in one of those "Baseball Fever" or "I Love This Game" commercials. So what's the point of this digression? Well, USA Today used to ask athletes to list their five favorites in various categories: their five favorite movies or fast-food items, for instance. In 1984, the paper asked Willie Mays Aikens to name his five favorite sportscasters. I came in fifth. So perhaps that will be my epitaph. "Len Berman: Willie Mays Aikens's fifth-favorite sportscaster."